It's Garcia's Open to win or lose
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2007 British Open | Round Three | 22 Jul 2007
Sergio Garcia is just one round away from claiming the most important win of his life but in order for him to achieve that goal he will face the greatest test of his golfing life and under the closest scrutiny he has ever experienced. Twelve months ago Garcia was within just one shot of Tiger Woods after 54 holes at Hoylake before capitulating on day four but the manner in which Garcia is playing this week gives every indication that July 22nd will provide a much more convincing result.
This is, however, the Open Championship and the opportunity to turn the tag of “one of the games best without a major” to “major winner” is a turning point in the 27-year-old’s career and that carries a great pressure even with a three shot lead.
There are few players in recent years who have won major championships at an earlier age. Tiger Woods is the exception and Ben Curtis was just 26 when he won this coveted title in 2003 but despite the fact that Garcia seems like he has been around for ages, he will be one of the youngest in the last twenty years or so to win at this level.
Garcia takes his significant lead into the final round of 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie after his third round of three under 68 left him three clear of Steve Stricker and six shots clear of Ernie Els, K.J. Choi, Paul McGinley, Chris DiMarco, Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink and Paul Broadhurst. Any slipup by Garcia in round four will open the door not only for Stricker but for those six shots back.
Carnoustie showed on Saturday that in the current conditions she is conducive to good scoring. 16 players broke 70 in round three compared to a collective total of 15 players over the first two days.
The relatively soft fairways and greens and generally calm conditions offered opportunity for all but it would be the inform Steve Stricker that took most advantage, his course record equalling round of 64 moving him from his overnight 20th to outright second. Stricker birded five of his first seven holes today sweeping him within two shots of Garcia before the Spaniard had even teed off on day three. Stricker’s closing few holes on Friday where he bogeyed his last three holes may yet be the difference in his chances to win his first major.
Stricker has played the Open Championship on seven previous occasions but has managed a best of only 22nd on debut in 1996 at a time when he was one of the hottest players in the game. Stricker led early on the final day at the recent US Open and played very well at Congressional just a couple of weeks ago so certainly had credentials in terms of his form but his Open record had not been all that convincing. Stricker has previously displayed a capacity to play well on foreign soil however with his 2001 Accenture Match Play Championship victory in Melbourne.
Garcia has been in stunning form from tee to green, dropping only three shots in his 54 holes but it has been the greater confidence he has on the greens, brought about by his decision to go with the belly putter that seems to have spread through his game. Garcia had a chance at the last from 12 feet to create an even greater margin after a superb approach but missed and that may yet be a significant moment in the final analysis.
Many of those at three under dropped shots over Carnoustie’s demanding closing stretch but one who did not and may yet be a factor was Ernie Els. A triple bogey at the reachable par five 6th stands out on a card that included six birdies. Els played the back nine in an incredible 31 to move from obscurity to potential contention and the man with the best record in this championship, amongst those nearest the lead, still stands a chance of winning his second Claret Jug.
Saturday at Carnoustie highlighted the potential for low scoring and with similar conditions predicted for day four, many are still in with a chance.
Tiger Woods somehow produced a round of 69 when he again struggled for most of the day. At one under and eight shots back he has a big workload on day four but he can still not be counted out. Much will be dependant on how Garcia handles the situation he finds himself in. If he can record a round of even par or better then the task may be too great for his chasers but clearly that will be much easier said than done.
The Australians came here in force both numerically and in terms of their form but they have, to a large extent, disappointed.
There have been personal milestones with Pampling overcoming the demons Carnoustie has held for eight years to be the leading Australian at this stage at 1 over par, with Richard Green and Adam Scott one shot further back. The most impressive performance from the Australians, however, comes from major debutant, Won Joon Lee, whose round of 70 today moved him from the cutline to 37th place at 3 over and he continues to impress just nine months after turning professional. Three over after just two holes in his third round Lee fought back to finish with a very impressive back nine of 32.